Brief History of NTRAK

In 1973 a group of enthusiastic model railroaders got together at an N scale meet in Signal Hill, California, and talked about what they could do to help interest people in N scale, and to share information about N scale. They developed a set of unified standards that allowed modelers to build small modules that could be joined to form a larger layout. At the 1974 NMRA national convention, they ran a 12 x 72-foot N scale modular layout with 50- to 100- car trains running on the three-track closed-loop layout.

The NTRAK project resulted from this meeting and the idea has spread throughout the model railroad hobby. NTRAK is an informal organization run by volunteers, its purpose and objective is to encourage model railroading in N scale. There are now NTRAK clubs in most areas of the United States and Canada, there are also NTRAK clubs in Australia, England, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Japan, and many other countries

NTRAK modules are used to build large display layouts as well as home and club layouts. Modelers from all over the world can build modules, bring them to a show, connect their module with modules brought by other modelers and by doing so a giant N scale layout is soon constructed

NTRAK layouts combine beautifully detailed modules, with long trains running on the two main lines. A third track, the branch line is used for picking up and setting out cars at the many industries along the way.

What is an NTRAK Module?

Modules are the central concept of NTRAK. A module is a 2-foot deep by four- or six-foot long section of a model railroad easily transported by the owner. Other dimensions are possible, but these are the most common. All of our present modules are variations of a plain old four footer with fold and lock legs, the side frames are simply extended to 6 ft in some cases, or capped with end wedges and a foam arc to be a 12 ft corner section. Underneath they are all just a basic module.

There are three standard tracks on an NTRAK module. The two main lines and a branch line. The main lines are designated (from the front of the module) Red and Yellow. The branch line is designated Blue.

Building a module limits the expense and effort required to participate in the model railroading hobby. You can start off with a simple 4-foot module, a locomotive and some rolling stock at a minimal cost. As your interest and skills grow, you can add a module (or modules) or perhaps custom-detail a locomotive or even a whole train! The best part is that you can start enjoying the hobby right away!

NTRAK modules were designed to bring model railroading to the public at conventions, exhibits, and shopping malls. In the past a person wanting to see model trains in operation had to seek out a club or home layout that was open to the public. These layouts were often designed for the convenience of the owners and operators, and not for public viewing. The modular layouts have the flexibility to be fitted into many different size and shape areas. They offer close up viewing and maximum train action. Long trains passing each other are always attention getters and are a feature of the NTRAK layouts. While designed for large public display layouts, the NTRAK modules are being used for home layouts and for club layouts as well. For the modeler, the NTRAK modules offer a number of advantages over a fixed layout. We are such a mobile society and the modules make it very easy to move a layout from one home to the next without destroying all the work that went into it. Our smaller homes, apartments, and mobile homes all lend themselves to N scale layouts. Persons who want to run longer trains have the opportunity to take a module to one of the many NTRAK meets during the year and to be part of a large layout. There they can run their longer trains and meet other N scale modelers.

Ease of Building Modules

The building of a module isn't difficult and it has the distinct advantage of introducing the builder to all the phases of layout building, without having to do so much of one phase that they get bored or frustrated with it as can happen when building a large home layout. Getting a module ready for a scheduled meet will do wonders for a builders speed and concentration! Another advantage is that the module can be turned on its side or upside down, making working on it much easier. The module can be brought to another part of the house where the rest of the family is, or taken outside when a messy job needs to be done. 

Modules may be for you

Here are some reasons to consider taking up modular railroading:

         Limited space: You live in an apartment or a house with no extra room for a layout and donít have a basement.

         Move often: Youíre in the military or have another job that requires frequent relation.

         Tangible accomplishment: A module completed in a short time can give you an immediate feeling of accomplishment that a large layout which takes years to complete may not.

         Developing skills: youíll learn about track planning, track laying, ballasting, scenery, and electronics on a small scale, giving you a chance to hone your skills before tackling a large layout. Knowing that you can complete a module may give you the confidence to start a layout.

         Limited resources: Because of your job or family situation you donít have a lot of time and/or money to spend on a large layout.

         New scale: Youíre an HO modeler with a layout in your basement, but youíd like to give N scale a try now that there are more products available. Without starting over on a new layout, you can try the new scale by incorporating your module into an N track club layout and see how you like it with a minimal investment of time and money.

         Making the hobby public: You want to share this hobby (and display your work) with the public to encourage new modelers and promote model railroading. Modular layouts are often put together and run in shopping malls and at model shows.

         Club room: Your club canít find or afford a room in which to keep a permanent layout. If you find a place (or places) to gather occasionally, everyone brings their own module and you make a temporary layout and hold operating sessions. Also, your club layout isnít a lost cause if you lose your headquarters.

Click here (32614 bytes)for a two-page PDF file that includes a sketch of the basic, standard 2'x4' straight N-Trak module, including position of required tracks, wiring, legs, etc. plus several detail sketches and accompanying notes.

You can order a 16-page manual is available for $1.50.

You can also order the NTRAK Module 'How-to' Book, a large-format, spiral-bound book with over 100 pages including all of the material in the 16-page manual plus 50 module photos and track plans, chapters on carpentry, wiring and design of modules, for $10.00.

Also, click here (29.7KB)for a four-page PDF file entitled "DCC Recommended Practices for NTRAK Layouts". DCC Recommended Practices for NTRAK Layouts

Here are some of the most important measurements for the NTRAK standards in both millimeters and inches. If there is something more you want to know, feel free to ask.

Track                   From    Height       Min        Max         Cable                 Notes
                              Rear                    Radius    Grade   Color Code 

Main Line 1           20"          0            24"         0%           Red                   Required

 Main Line 2         18.5"        0            24"         0%         Yellow                Required

Branch Line 1        17"           0            18"       1.5%           Blue                   Alternate                

Branch Line 2      10"          0            18"      1.5%           Blue                  Preferred By Capitol City

Mountain Line          4"      3 1/8"         12"        3%             Green **              Optional *              

Passing track       21.5"         0                                           Orange **              Optional          

12V Accessory Bus                                                           White ***              Required - Tap with 3A fuse

Module Sizes: Length. 4, 6, or 8 foot     Depth: 2 feet

  * The Mountain line trackage is not required but the green bus is required wiring.
 ** The passing track (Orange Bus) will draw it's power from the Green bus.
*** Use 16AWG lamp cord and fuse locally at 3 amps to protect hook up wire. This accommodation allows removal of 120V plug strips from modules.

Up to to 6" may be added to both the front and rear of modules to make room for scenery or track plans. If extra is added at the rear, the skyboard should still come forward in some manner to match the standard position.